In the state of North Carolina, gay couples still await their right to be married.
Elon University junior Madeline Carlin follows a Winston-Salem couple, Frank Benedetti and Gary Trowbridge, through the story of their almost 50-year relationship in her short documentary, “We Will Prevail.”
“I chose the topic of gay marriage because Amendment One passed last spring and there was just a lot going on about it and I thought it would make a really great topic,” Carlin said.
Amendment One, also known as the North Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Amendment, was a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that was passed in May 2012. The measure defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Out of 832 applicants, “We Will Prevail” was one of the 143 films chosen to be played at the RiverRun International Film Festival. The festival chooses independent films that have not yet been distributed.
The RiverRun International Film Festival is a nonprofit cultural organization dedicated to the role of cinema as a channel for powerful ideas and diverse viewpoints. Their mission is to foster a greater appreciation of cinema and a deeper understanding of people, cultures and perspectives of the world through regular interaction with great films and filmmakers.
When the documentary was filmed, Benedetti and Trowbridge had been together for 48 years. Trowbridge said their big goal now is to make it to 50 years and beyond.
The couple was hoping to get married in North Carolina, but Trowbridge said it doesn’t look like that will happen in their lifetime.
Carlin picked Benedetti and Trowbridge because of their long-lasting relationship. They were also greatly involved in the activism efforts against the passing of Amendment One in North Carolina. Benedetti and Trowbridge continue to be involved in the gay community, especially in Winston-Salem.
“A lot of stereotypes and perceptions of gay people I think they kind of nix,” Carlin said. “They were great faces to be up on the screen and representing the cause.”
Benedetti and Trowbridge have lived in Winston-Salem since 1993 and are seen as leaders in the gay community.
“They’ve headed up several campaigns over the years to get the word out about gay rights in North Carolina,” Carlin said. “They also were part of a human rights campaign a few years back. They went to Congress to testify when gay marriage first came on the slate way back in the early 2000s.”
The film not only focuses on local people, but also a very timely and highly debated topic right now. The short was filmed both before and after the 2012 passing of Amendment One in North Carolina.
“Marriage has a universal understanding,” Trowbridge said in the film.
The 15th annual RiverRun International Film Festival starts April 12 and ends April 21 in Winston-Salem. The 10-day festival is the largest in North Carolina and one of the largest in the entire southeast, according to Mariedith Appanaitis, RiverRun’s publicity coordinator. Last year 60,000 people came to the event.
A large variety of films from all genres and lengths are screened. In 2012, the festival had more than 140 films from 25 countries and brought almost 100 filmmakers together from around the world, according to the festival’s official website. Carlin’s film, completed the spring of her sophomore year in 2012, focuses on the couple’s struggles of being gay in the South.
Carlin’s mentor, Nicole Triche, encouraged Carlin and a few other students to apply to the festival. While “We Will Prevail” has been accepted to screen at a few other festivals, RiverRun is the biggest so far.
The selection process is highly competitive, as many different studios and directors submit films to the festival.
“We select the ones that we think will be the best fit for our audience and would get the best variety for our festival,” Appanaitis said.
Carlin said her biggest challenge was the timing. As a short documentary, the total running time of “We Will Prevail” is under five minutes.
“Frank and Gary have such an amazing story and have so many great tales to be told over the course of their life together,” Carlin said. “So it was really hard narrowing in on one topic. They’re just great people and they’ve done so many things to promote equality.”
Benedetti and Trowbridge are no strangers to the RiverRun community.
“They are actually two of our very favorite RiverRun volunteers and they are actually very involved in every art organization in Winston,” Appanaitis said. “They’re just well-known as being wonderful volunteers.”
The couple is currently active in North Carolina to get people talking about the importance of same-sex marriage rights.
“We’re trying to involve people in conversations,” Benedetti said in the film.
Benedetti speaks frequently at churches and other organizations in the area to spread the word about gay rights. He allows anyone to ask questions about himself as a person, his sexuality and his life.
“We will prevail because history tells us that love eventually trumps hatred,” Bennedetti said in a speech at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Highlands in Virginia. "We will prevail because justice, no matter how late in coming, will overcome inequality. We will prevail because our struggle, like others in the past, is rooted in basic American principles. They cannot ever stop us from loving each other."
In fewer than five minutes, Carlin is able to capture powerful emotions in the documentary. She said she wants her audience to reconsider their thoughts on equality when they see the documentary.
“Frank says in the documentary that the most conservative thing in the world is to promote marriage,” Carlin said. “And I think people often think of gay marriage as a destruction of our society and it’s not that, and Frank and Gary prove that. They deserve the same rights.”
Carlin’s film will be shown at 12:30 p.m. April 14 and again at 4:15 p.m. April 19. Tickets are available for $8 for students at 2013.riverrunfilm.com.